The lines may be blurring in terms of what a small drone can do vs what a big drone is capable of, but still, size matters. Should you look for small drones, or do you need a large beast to accomplish your aerial goals? The answer depends on your needs of your flight, and your ability to safely transport your machine. Folding drones have really made a difference to size, but that’s only part of the story.
Let’s explore how your needs can best be met, these are the best drones for different tasks, based on size.
The Hubsan H111 is one of the best nano drones for flying around the house. It is a tiny machine that fits in the palm...
- 5 - Minutes
- No camera
- 7 - MPH
- 150 - ft
The DJI Mini 2 is an updated Mavic Mini, now with a 4K camera, Ocusync 2.0, and updated flight features in a package still small...
- 31 - Minutes
- 4K - 12MP
- 36 - MPH
- 6.2 - Miles
DJI called the Mavic 2 Pro an iterative update over the original Mavic Pro; It may look like a simple upgrade, but the Mavic 2...
- 31 - MIN
- 4K - 30 FPS
- 44 - MPH
- 6.2 - MILES
Taking the core of the solid DJI Phantom 4 Pro, the Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 adds more efficient motors, OcuSync connectivity and more.
- 30 - MIN
- 4K - 60 FPS
- 45 - MPH
- 4.3 - MILES
Generally recognized as one of the best camera drones on the market, the DJI Inspire 2 offers great cameras, superb flight and robust controls for...
- 27 - Minutes
- 6K - 30 FPS
- 58 - MPH
- 4.3 - MILES
Important notice for all pilots, the FAA requires you to register your drone before you fly, to affix your drone registration number to the craft and now hobby pilots must gain authorization to fly in controlled airspace.
Newest drone on the list: The DJI Mini 2 is an impressive update from the original Mavic Mini drone. Still under 250g, but now with a 4K camera, more power, longer battery life, and much better range. Check it out:
How big can drones get?
For the sake of simplicity, I will recommend that there are two main factors in choosing a drone by size. First, ask yourself what you will be carrying, if anything, and how heavy it is. Second, where will you be flying?
To be fair, there are many other reasons to consider size of a drone. Maybe you need it to fit in a bag, maybe battery life is a concern, I think you can answer those questions for yourself as we go. Bottom line, you know if you can fit a huge drone in your tiny car or not.
On the top end of things, please keep in mind the FAA rule for drone weight. You may not fly a drone with total take-off weight of 55 lbs or more, including payload. Too bad, I’d love to try a little drone snowboarding.
Your payload is important, as larger drones are usually more stable for cameras, but small drones fit in backpacks or can fly indoors.
Location is important, you wouldn’t want to crash a large drone indoors and you wouldn’t want to lose a small toy drone over the edge of a cliff on a windy day.
Drone legal and safety
If you are flying for pay, or any other form of compensation, you must operate under a different set of rules and possess a commercial drone license. We call it the Part 107, it’s not too hard to get, but it will take some time to learn all the rules. We want to help you learn the rules and get your commercial license, check out our drone pilot training material.
Keeping things small is great for first time fliers and children. Most all toy-class drones are light-weight, which is nice. However, small does not necessarily mean it’s a toy. There are some high-end quadcopters out there that are small and light-weight as well. Not to mention powerful enough to really hurt if you get in the way of the propellers.
Small drones allow for easy portability, and if you go small enough, you get to where you can safely fly indoors. We explored nano drones recently, the smallest of the small, they can barely hurt a fly. Anything larger and heavier than a nano drone will produce enough power to hurt, or punch holes in walls, consider the risks before taking off.
This is not a best list, not exactly, but these are solid drones we’ve flown or recommend for each segment.
One of our favorite drones for flying around the house is the tiny Hubsan H111. This is an entry level toy drone that usually sells for around $20. It flies quite well, all things considered, and is a superb machine to practice on during the winter months or before you dive into a larger machine. The built in battery only provides about 5 minute of flight time, there is no camera and no fancy flight features, it's a raw flight experience - which is what we love about it.
It's not lost on us that it comes in Drone Rush colors as well, thank you Hubsan!
Check out the Hubsan H111 for about $18 today.
January 2015Release Date
The Syma X5C was one of our first drones. A toy-class machine that is very resilient, fairly stable and easy to operate. We knew we needed something inexpensive to learn how to fly in the beginning, and this machine was our choice. The quirks of this simple drone taught us about basic flight mistakes, how to control a machine and much more.
The Syma X5C runs about $30 for the drone, a little more with extra batteries and parts.
January 2018Release Date
UVify has a rich history in drone racing. They understand that future racers need to start somewhere, developing the UVify OOri as a fantastic beginner's race drone. Slow and stable for practicing in your living room, this machine can open up to over 50MPH when you want to win a race. Agile, light-weight, and fast, the UVify OOri is great for beginners on a budget.
There may be less expensive beginner drones out there, but if quality is of concern to you, the UVify OOri for $295 is hard to beat in the segment.
Walkera F210 3D
From our best racing drones list
Racers, this one is for you. Truth is, most seasoned racers have moved on to custom builds, or heavily modified units. For those that just want to open the box and fly fast, the Walkera F210 3D is a great quadcopter to consider. Racing drones are quite small, easy to transport, but not as easy to operate. They are highly capable fliers, but, like a good sports car, you must respect the power and maneuverability or things can go wrong, fast.
Walkera has a few racing drones in their stables, and their own FPV goggles, making them a solid choice for first time racers, or those that just don’t like to tinker.
Check out the Walkera F210 3D for $349 on Amazon today.
See our Best selfie drones list
The concept of a small, mostly autonomous, portable flier, designed simply as a tiny hovering camera, is intriguing. We can appreciate the attempts out there so far, and we can only recommend a few of them with a simple caveat, it is my personal opinion that the camera capabilities of these drones are not where they need to be.
DJI Mini 2
November 2020Release Date
The original DJI Mavic Mini was a very important machine for the consumer hobby drone market. The DJI Mini 2 is the next generation of super-compact camera drone, it's a solid improvement over the original Mini, especially in terms of the camera and flight capabilities. You still get a sub-250 gram drone, but now get a 4K camera, vastly improved connectivity, a more durable design, and more power.
The newer 1/2.3-inch sensor produces 12MP stills, and 4K video at 30 fps and 100Mbps data rate. For some, the most exciting update is lossless zoom. With up to 4X zoom, you can safely fly at distance from your subject, perfect for those pet photos or to capture shots of a waterfall in the distance.
DJI Mavic Mini
November 2019Release Date
With a long list of drones that start with the name Mavic, DJI has launched yet another consumer machine, perhaps their most consumer friendly yet, the new, very compact, folding DJI Mavic Mini.
As the name implies, the DJI Mavic Mini is a very small machine, and in true DJI fashion, it has few compromises to make it all work. The first thing to note is that the Mavic Mini weighs less than 0.55 lbs, which means you do not need to register it with the FAA before flight. Registration is quick and easy, but not requiring it at all is a bonus.
Related reading: DJI Mavic Mini review
Don't let the small size fool you, this drone packs a 12MP camera, shoot 2.7K video from a 3-axis stabilized Gimbal and has all of the flight features you'd expect from a Mavic drone today.
DJI Mavic Air 2
May 2020Release Date
The DJI Mavic Air 2 drone is more than just a successor to the original Mavic Air, it's more of a transition from its own form-factor into a true Mavic drone. The Mavic Air 2 maintains its place as a mid-tier drone in DJI's lineup. In terms of size, price, and capability, the Mavic Air 2 sits almost perfectly in between the Mavic Mini and the Mavic 2 series drones.
In the same way that the Mavic Air stepped up the camera game for small drones, the Mavic Air 2 is an exciting update in the camera department as well. You're looking at a new 1/2-inch sensor that shoots 12MP stills, but does so from a 48MP sensor! You can capture 48MP stills as well, but the 12MP shots are better, using pixel binning managed by Quad Bayer technology. Photos are great, but the new 4K video capture at 60fps, and a data bit rate of 120Mbps, are more exciting to many users.
Check out the DJI Mavic Air 2 for a starting price of $799 for the base package, $988 for the Fly More combo at launch in May 2020.
Yuneec Mantis G
October 2019Release Date
The Yuneec Mantis G is everything we had hoped for in the original Mantis Q. We can't see the difference between these drones, save for the new stabilized camera Gimbal. Superb flight time, easy controls, voice activated features, a compact design that folds small for transport and a 4K camera all sound good to us.
Yuneec understands they have stiff competition in this portion of the drone market. They build mostly for the commercial space, but fun drones like the Mantis line and larger Typhoon hexacopters have a tough battle. The Mantis G is a leap forward for the company. We had a hard time recommending the Mantis Q to users that cared about shooting video, now we can put the DJI Mavic 2 drones and this new Mantis G in the same sentence.
Based on price and camera sensor size, the Yuneec Mantis G best competes with the DJI Mavic Air, which is to say it is a viable option for hobby pilots looking for a reliable drone to fly.
The Yuneec Mantis G is $699 today.
July 2018Release Date
The Parrot Anafi is one of the best entries from Parrot for the consumer camera drone market. Recognizing the power of an articulating gimbal, the new 21MP, 4K camera is able to point all the way down and rotate to pointing all the way up. This is extremely powerful for inspection services on commercial drones, but is built into a consumer friendly folding quadcopter design.
The drone itself is a step up from Parrot's usual mostly-foam build. Foam is great for building size without adding much weight, instead the Anafi is a much sleeker package with a plastic body.
Look for the now-common set of features in the Anafi, such as folding propeller arms, folding propellers, a compact size and a stabilized 4K camera. The remote control uses your phone as a display and you can swap batteries to expand your flight day. The Parrot Anafi sells for $699, but you can often find deals to save a few dollars.
DJI Mavic Pro
November 2016Release Date
The DJI Mavic Pro is a compact, folding drone that was a pioneer for portability. This quadcopter folds down to fit easily in a backpack, or large pocket, while opening up to take 4K video to over 40mph in the sky. The 3-axis stabilized gimbal offers very smooth footage and OcuSync enables long range and HD live video streaming. The Phantom line of drones may have established DJI as a leader in the consumer drone market, but the Mavic Pro made high-quality aerial photography fun and highly accessible.
DJI Mavic 2 Zoom
August 2018Release Date
If you run down the spec sheet, the DJI Mavic 2 Zoom and Mavic 2 Pro are the same machine, with one major exception, the camera. The folding quadcopter design offers great portability, the multi-direction obstacle avoidance sensors assist in safe flight, and the new capabilities of OcuSync 2.0 add versatility for control and accessories. That is true for both of the drones, the Mavic 2 Zoom, on the other hand, rocks a 2x optical zoom lens on top of a 12MP camera. It shoots 4K video at 100Mbps and can digitally double that zoom for an impressive close-up.
DJI Mavic 2 Pro
August 2018Release Date
Introduced in August of 2018, the DJI Mavic 2 Pro instantly became the best consumer-class folding drone that DJI had to offer. A marked upgrade over the original Mavic Pro, the Mavic 2 Pro rocks a 1-inch camera sensor for 4K video capture at 100Mbps, multi-direction obstacle avoidance sensors for some of the safest drone flight possible, and much more. OcuSync 2.0 enhances connectivity to the remote control and other accessories, now able to transmit 1080p live stream video well beyond the legal line-of-sight.
With an initial launch price of $1449, plus another $319 to get the Fly More kit with extra batteries, there is a barrier to entry with this machine, but if the DJI Mavic 2 Pro is within your budget, we think you will not be disappointed.
A large size drone adds many logistical difficulties, like not fitting in your backpack, but usually offers a much more stable flight. As mentioned, the smoother you need photo or video capture to be, generally speaking, the larger you’ll want your drone.
DJI Phantom 4 Pro and Pro+
November 2016Release Date
When you think about drones, it's possible that the first image that comes to mind is the iconic design of the DJI Phantom line. DJI knows it, continually iterating their Phantom drones to be some of the best high-end consumer class quadcopters on the market. That trend continued in the fall of 2016, launching the Phantom 4 Pro and Phantom 4 Pro+ alongside the Inspire 2.
The difference between the Phantom 4 Pro and the Phantom 4 Pro+ is the inclusion of a 5.5-inch built-in display on the remote of the Pro+. It's a good looking, Android powered display, but it's the only difference between the two machines.
DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2.0
May 2018Release Date
The DJI Phantom series of drones are some of the best machines on the market, every iteration makes improvements on the previous and in the case of the DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2.0, we're talking about improved motors, more efficient propellers and the first Phantom drone to rock OcuSync connectivity.
The Phantom 4 Pro series was DJI's best drone at launch for object avoidance technology, a trend that continues and is improved upon with the V2.0 series, adding radar and more obstacle avoidance goodness. The newer drone comes with the same 20MP 4K camera as previous, still one of the best camera drones on the market.
The difference between the Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 for around $1,499 and the Phantom 4 Pro+ V2.0 for $1,749 is the inclusion of a 5.5-inch built-in display on the remote of the Pro+. The bright, Android powered display is the only difference between the two machines.
June 2015Release Date
The 3DR Solo was one of the best drones in its time. This large and powerful machine was made to haul a GoPro, and it did so very well with a 3-axis stabilized gimbal (worth more than the drone itself) and quality peripherals to enhance the flight. 3DR themselves have shifted their focus greatly since the Solo began to lag behind others in the market. 3DR is almost entirely a services and software company now, offering site scan packages using drones from multiple other manufacturers, that said, these are drones that accomplish what the Solo did in the early days.
The 3DR Solo has big, powerful motors, a large battery and versatile payload mount. The machine is sturdy with a plastic housing and LED lights on each corner. The landing gear are not wimpy, but they are a little fragile feeling. Considering some of the antenna are in those legs, we recommend getting spares, just in case.
The 3DR Solo is a stable drone, hovering quite well and is fairly smooth. We don't recommend relying on the non-stabilized GoPro mount for your camera, but the results are not terrible. As mentioned, the stabilized gimbal sells for more than the drone these days, it also supports up to the Hero4 camera, so we have a really hard time recommending it at this point. Still if you are looking for a solid and reliable drone for other uses, the 3DR Solo is a great option.
We've seen some crazy deals on this discontinued drone, but you should expect to find the 3DR Solo for around $399.
Yuneec Typhoon H
June 2016Release Date
The Yuneec Typhoon H is a folding hexacopter with 4K camera and effective flight features. The design has become iconic of Yuneec drones, offering the safety and stability of six propellers and the versatility of a center-hanging camera. The remote control of the Typhoon H is an Android powered device with built-in 7-inch display and all the controls needed to navigate the aircraft and operate the camera.
GPS connectivity and multiple smart flight modes ensure a successful flight for most pilots and operations. Basic obstacle avoidance sensors help keep things safe, with the option of the Typhoon H Pro with equipped Intel RealSense collision avoidance sensors.
The attached CGO3+ camera offers 4K video resoplution at 30 fps and still images at 12MP. As a discontinued drone, you can still find the Yuneec Typhoon H for about $950.
Yuneec Typhoon H Plus
July 2018Release Date
The hexacopter design of Yuneec's Typhoon line of drones has been quite popular, if not successful. The design has become an icon in the industry and the safety of having extra propellers has been well accepted in the commercial market. The Yuneec Typhoon H Plus is a second generation model of their consumer focus. The Typhoon H Plus lands somewhere in between the DJI Phantom and DJI Inspire line of drones in terms of specs and price. Packing a 20MP 4K camera on a 3-axis gimbal, folding design and market average flight times and speeds, the Intel RealSense obstacle avoidance sensor may a leading reason to consider this drone over others.
You'll be able able to check out the Yuneec Typhoon H Plus for about $1899 from a few retailers.
September 2017Release Date
After some success with the hexacopter design, Yuneec decided to head over to the commercial drone market with the Yuneec H520. A commercial-grade, folding machine that ships in construction orange. A range of payloads are available, mostly allowing the H520 to serve your inspection, surveying, mapping and search and rescue needs. Retractable landing gear allow 360 degree rotation of the camera, and the platform promises stability, even in high winds.
The Yuneec H520 alone costs less than $2000, but you should expect to pay around $4000 for a full flight package with multiple batteries and a camera or two.
Yuneec Tornado H920 Plus
February 2017Release Date
If you are looking for the largest off-the-shelf drone that Yuneec produces, you'll be looking at the Yuneec Tornado H920 Plus. This is a sizable hexacopter made to haul a fair sized camera. By default, you'll launch with the CGO4, which compares nicely to the Panasonic GH4. Was that a collaboration? Well, go ahead and install the camera gimbal to launch with the GH4 itself. In the end, the H920 Plus is an older drone, it's still reliable and masters the basics, but runs Yuneec's older in-house software. Their software is not bad, but their newer drones use PX4 and Dronecode software, which is more robust.
Bottom line, if you need a powerful drone for your more basic Hollywood camera flight needs, the Yuneec Tornado H920 Plus is a solid consideration.
DJI Matrice 200 series: 200/210/RTK
February 2017Release Date
When DJI re-imagined their commercial drone platform, they had inspection services in mind. Previous drones struggled with looking up, so DJI added a mount to point a camera up. Previous drones struggled with only having room for one payload, so DJI put three mount points, and thus the DJI Matrice 200 series was born. The Matrice 200 is the started machine, a quadcopter that accepts two bottom mounted payloads. The Matrice 210 adds a third mount on top of the drone, for an upward facing camera. The Matrice 210 RTK adds in that crucial GPS performance for demanding environments and precision operations.
These are powerful, fast and weather resistant drones that are almost custom order from DJI. Budget about $6,500 to get started, with a full flight package of the 210 RTK running north of $10,000.
DJI Matrice 300 RTK
May 2020Release Date
Commercial drone operations are a serious market, and the DJI Matrice 300 RTK is a machine that has promise for many applications. DJI's best obstacle avoidance and aerial awareness tools are included in this platform, making it one of the safest machines in the sky. RTK GPS capability, along with Airsense ADS-B tech and a bunch of Smart tools, ensure the best possible accuracy and safety for your inspection needs. For example, Waypoints 2.0 can manage up to 65,535 points, so you can pre-program a lengthy mission.
The new Ocusync Enterprise offers range up to 15KM, that's almost 10 miles. It also has triple-channel 1080p video transmission. That's one signal to the remote, one to a dedicated recorder and one to flight command or the news truck, or whatever receiver you need.
The new Zenmuse H20 payload is a powerful camera system that comes in two versions, the H20 and H20T. Both have a 20MP sensor with 23x zoom, a 12MP wide angle camera, and a laser range finder. The 30T also includes a thermal camera, for your serious inspection needs. The Matrice 300 RTK supports most older Matrice payloads as well, so you can mount the single or dual camera lower payloads, as well as the top mounted camera, for your upward facing inspection needs.
The DJI Matrice 300 RTK is more of a custom order, and shipments will begin later in Q2 of 2020.
DJI Inspire 2
November 2016Release Date
The original DJI Inspire may have set a tone for what a professional drone should look like, but the newer DJI Inspire 2 set the tone for what it should be able to accomplish. At launch, the Inspire 2 was equipped with the Zenmuse X5, a 5.2K camera with interchangeable lenses, ready to take on tasks in Hollywood. Since then, DJI has added the Zenmuse X7 camera, a 6K shooter even more capable of professional filming tasks.
DJI Matrice 600 Pro
One of the larger commercial focused retail drones around is the DJI Matrice 600. With six propellers, six batteries, a wingspan of almost six feet and a payload of up to six kilograms… no I’m not making this up, it’s just a big drone. The primary use of this drone is as a way to put your larger camera into the sky, including mounting a full Ronin MX gimbal with Red EPIC camera. Beam HD video back to a base station and utilize it as a feed for live coverage, or just as a recording for that professional car commercial you are shooting.
At this size and price point, we’d be pretty jealous if you get to buy a Matrice 600 Pro to fly around your backyard for fun. You’re looking at $5,585 for the Matrice 600 Pro to get started, then add on your camera.
Also seen in our Best camera drones list
Freefly makes the Alta drone in two configurations, big and really big. The smaller has six propellers, the larger is eight motors with eight big propellers able to haul a good amount of weight into the air. Freefly also focuses on the professional segment of the drone market, putting powerful cameras into the sky for commercials and big screen productions. If you were wondering, DJI is the sort of company that builds drones, then tailors them for purposes like hanging a camera. Freefly is a video company, they have handheld and larger camera gimbals and rigs worth drooling over, they learned that there is a new way to utilize a camera build a drone to fly it.
A 20 lb payload means you can fly pretty well any camera that costs less than the drone itself.
SureFly – passenger drone
As seen in our Passenger drones list
We’re giving SureFly center stage here, but you should probably know that Intel, Bell, Airbus and a dozen other players have passenger drones in the works. Some have the goal of on-demand flight, like a taxi service, others are looking to introduce a smaller segment to the air travel that we know now. We like the idea of ordering one of these passenger drones for our trip to the grocery store – we’re not there yet, but things are on track that we will see it sooner rather than later.
This is it, folks, the ‘flying car’ future that we’ve been dreaming of for the last 50 years of science fiction movies is today. Autonomous flying taxi services, amazing!
Finding the right sized drone is likely to be a balance of load carrying capabilities and portability needs for most of us. At least I assume most are looking for a drone with at lease moderate camera capabilities.
The conclusion for the offerings on the market today is that you will need at least a Phantom sized drone, affectionately referred to as mid-sized drone, to do any semi-pro camera work. Smaller drones like the Mavic Pro prove extremely popular, that is mostly thanks to their extreme portability, accepting the lower camera quality as a trade off.
Last, if you have serious camera gear to fly, you’ll need to go big. Motor power can compensate to get a DSLR into the air, but the market only really offers large drones at this time for this need.